The Mob is another collaboration between myself and a Khomeini refugee who writes under the alias 'Sohrab'. Since our previous work on Days of Pain and Madness, I have been after Sohrab to tell us more about his experiences before coming to Canada.
He could never have imagined that this could be happening in historic, welcoming Bushehr, a medium-sized port city at the end of a waterlogged peninsula jutting out into the Persian Gulf.
Before he entered the dead-end street, he had been running for his life in the narrow twisting alleyways of the old city. The sand-coloured mud-brick houses with balconies, latticed windows and flat roofs, one tucked up against another, funneling him to his predicament.
It was hard to imagine - as he saw the looming wall at the end, with a crowd bent on murder at his heels - that he had just run past children playing soccer, skillfully maneuvering the ball around brightly but modestly dressed women cheerfully out on their daily errands.
He had to think! Everything was happening too fast. He quickly understood that his only hope was to jump up and over the wall blocking his escape. It was too high, but maybe he could leap high enough to grab the protruding ledge and drag himself over.
He ran harder than he had ever run before. A few feet from the wall, he jumped.
Sweaty hands managed to grasp the ledge and hold on. He pulled himself almost to the level of his chest. Then, the edge collapsed and so did he. He pressed a cheek against the abrasive wall and clawed with bleeding fingertips into the hardened grainy mud, seeking to defy gravity as he slid down, hitting the ground hard in a kneeling position, his knees absorbing most of the impact.
He got up, and with his back against the wall, he faced the clamoring madness closing in, his terrified eyes mesmerized by fists punching the air, many with sticks held high; fists with knives, a fist with a meat cleaver, another with a rusty chain.
Behind the fists, flared nostrils filled with dust and mouths agape screamed obscenities like "Kill the motherfucker who does not believe in God!", peppered with the pernicious and pervasive, "Allahu Akbar!" (God is Great!) With every shriek, spit sprayed out: saliva mixed with dust and dirt landing on many a long, disheveled beard.
There was no escaping the grossly contorted faces consumed with rage; faces filled with an unbridled, murderous hatred for the man they accused of claiming there is no god.
Surrounded by the madness, which he envisioned ripping him and tearing him to pieces like a pack of rabid dogs, he momentarily froze, a sweaty, glistening statue propped up against a wall for an eternity. Then he started to shake uncontrollably. His heart was pounding. He had trouble breathing.
A knife stabbed at his neck, but only cut his hand when he brushed it aside.
The man with the knife was pushed away by another madman seemingly intent on killing him with his fists. He punched him in the stomach; he punched him again and again until he crumbled to the ground.
He raised himself onto his hands and knees. Tears were forming, but he wouldn’t let them fall. He wouldn’t let himself cry.
He heard a voice in his head. A faint whisper saying, ‘Be strong’.
Somehow he got up again, using the wall to prop himself up, his back to his assailants.
There was the sound, then the pain. He screamed like he had never screamed before. He found himself back on his hands and knees as the burning sensation spread throughout his entire body. Were they now intent on whipping him to death?
Then he remembered advice about how you can improve the odds, ever so slightly, of surviving when set upon by madmen. Still on his hands and knees, he looked for a seam in the sea of bodies swirling around him.
Again he got up, his gaze fixed on what he thought was an opening.
There was no escape. The whip cracked again. Again, he kissed the ground. Someone shouted, "YOU LIKE THAT?” The sound of unbridled laughter filled the air, and they whipped him as he screamed until he could scream no more.
They whipped him until he lost consciousness, but not before the barbarian with the chain did his sadistic bit on behalf of a thin-skinned god insulted that someone could even imagine that he did not exist.
The next thing he remembered was waking up in the back of a moving pickup truck. The crowd had either left him for dead, or Khomeini's Revolutionary Guard wanted him alive. They were taking him to a hospital.
Sohrab with Bernard Payeur, February 28, 2016